John Goodman displays serious intent
John Goodman is known and loved for his jocular, larger-than-life performances, but he also does a mean line in menace, as the hapless journalist in the room before DONALD CLARKEfound out
JOHN GOODMAN has just endured a particularly gruelling interview. It seems as if the previous journalist decided to wheel out the couch and attempt a talking cure.
“I wasn’t paying for a therapy session,” he says with a weary, bass laugh. “But I shelled up pretty quick. I think I’m waking up now.”
I’ll watch myself then.
“Oh God. Don’t watch yourself. That’s too fucking boring.”
For much of his career, this most empathetic of character actors has played the sort of personalities who don’t go in much for analysis. Since registering with Rosanne – the defining American sitcom of the 1990s – he has cornered the market in bluff, blue-colour giants with a taste for unpretentious monosyllables. He was the disturbingly right-wing Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. He was Fred Flintstone in the unfortunate movie version of that TV series. This week, he turns up as John Chambers, Hollywood make-up wizard, in Ben Affleck’s excellent Argo.
One would not be surprised to hear him dismiss any overly intrusive question with a percussive burp. He speaks very slowly. He seems to take life very seriously. But, despite his protestations, Goodman turns out to be perfectly open to self-analysis.
Tell us about his upbringing. John Stephen Goodman was born 60 years ago in St Louis, Missouri. It must have been a tough life. His dad died of a heart attack when John was just two, leaving his mom with three kids to raise alone.
“It was very hard. She took in laundry when I was a kid,” he says. “She babysat kids. Nowadays, we’d call it a day centre. She just called it looking after the neighbours’ kids. She had a hard time of it. It was a miracle I went to college and I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain there very much.”
John had the build for American football and his talent for the game brought him to Southwest Missouri State University. He now says that “was too lazy” and that he didn’t have sufficient “heart” to exploit a football scholarship. Happily, he encountered a teacher who edged him towards the university’s drama programme. In 1975, he set out for New York City with theatrical ambitions.
“I was unfocused. Looking back, I was wildly immature until I got into drama. Then I found my way. My mom was happy that I was happy. To be honest, I think she was more worried about me going to New York than about me being an actor.”
It was more than a decade before Goodman became a household name. But he claims that – carrying mountains of charisma on his mighty shoulders – he was rarely out of work for any lengthy period.
“I tended to earn enough to get me to the next job,” he says. “I was frightened all the time. Where is the rent going to come from? It took me a year to get into the union, but then I started getting commercials. That meant I didn’t have to work for a living. I could now support my drinking habit.”
He sounds mildly jocular. But Goodman has, indeed, undergone a serious struggle with the booze. Towards the end of the last decade, he owned up to being an alcoholic.